Message to Parents
Being the parent of a child with an eating disorder is a terrifying, confusing, and frustrating experience. You feel helpless, and like any parent of a sick child you turn to the medical profession. It is not uncommon for parents to be confronted by blame for their child's illness, or to be intimidated and made to feel inadequate in deciding what is best for their child. While there are certainly many compassionate and dedicated doctors devoted to treating anorexia (and other eating disorders), the fact is that mainstream treatment methods have, and continue to generate extremely poor outcomes. Anorexia not only has a less than 50% recovery rate, but those conventional treatment regimes are failing to keep people alive. The death rate for anorexia has more than doubled in the past two decades. Anorexia has the highest mortality rate from natural causes, and the highest suicide rate, of any mental illness. Mainstream medicine is simply failing. I have worked with numerous psychiatrists and other doctors over the past 30 years, and I know that some would be humble enough to admit that while they are doing what they have been trained to do, they are still very much at a loss as to how to successfully treat this impenetrable and challenging illness.
I am not a doctor and I am not attempting to provide medical advice. I simply wish to impart my opinion from the perspective of someone who has experienced anorexia, worked with numerous psychiatrists, and endured the system first hand for 30 years. Further, I am someone who has formally studied eating disorders within the mental "health" system from a Public Health angle, with a genuine desire to improve treatment for those who follow in my footsteps. I place the word "health" in scare quotes when referring to the mental "health" system, because I don't believe that it deserves such a title. A more accurate description would be a system for the mentally ill, since it does not foster health, but rather the mere "management" of illness.
I do not pretend to hold a “miracle” cure, however I do believe our organisation offers a better way of treating eating disorders – one that is not only more holistic, compassionate and empowering for patients and families, but that will lead to improved outcomes and reduced mortality.
I am frankly so concerned for parents – especially those with children (under 18) - battling with anorexia. The system is an absolute minefield and parents are often left feeling at the mercy of its generic (and often inhumane) protocol. In my experienced opinion Australia's mental health system more often than not compounds the problem. It is difficult to explain the potential pitfalls and (proven) likely outcomes to a desperate parent, new to the system, seeking urgent answers as they watch their child fade away. The parental and human instinct is to trust that doctors know what is best and how to “fix” the problem. I wish to prevent parents from falling into the same trap as my own parents did. Placing their faith in conventional treatments seemed like their only choice, and indeed their responsibility as parents. Unfortunately they were unaware of the compounded trauma it would cause me, let alone the woeful outcomes generated by such treatment. Despite this, treatment methods have barely changed since I was first hospitalised for anorexia in 1988 (Read my article here). Watching the next generation of parents, and sufferers, trying to navigate the same failing system is what drove me to establish RED HOUSE. I feel the reason for my long-suffering and my survival has been to be an instigator of change, to ensure sufferers and their families do not suffer helplessly, searching for answers, the way that my family has. I share my advice with no hidden agenda. It is simply a fervent desire to help, and to see a major change in the way anorexia (and other eating disorders) are perceived and treated.
If you are a parent of a child with anorexia the very first step I urge you to take is to read the book ‘Answers to Anorexia’ by psychiatrist, Dr James Greenblatt. I know there are literally thousands of books and articles out there claiming to have answers, but in my protracted search for scholarly guidance I have never come across answers as compelling and important as Greenblatt's. I have no hidden agenda whatsoever in promoting his book (and other works) - I simply believe it is a breakthrough that mainstream medicine is yet to realise, and I waited 30 grueling years for it. It will not only help you understand the genetic and brain changes that are causing your child’s behaviour, but provide you with the scientific basis underpinning what RED HOUSE offers. It will provide insight into our approach to re-feeding and the imperative role of micro-nutrition, which hospital re-feeding programs fail to address – hence resulting in such high relapse and death rates. Psychiatrists are rigorously trained to prescribe psychotropic drugs in addition to reductionist, psycho-analytical therapy, and hospitalisation. They receive almost no training in nutrition for health or healing, and the training they receive with regards to treating anorexia (and other eating disorders) is based on "old-school" theories and methods which have proven ineffective for the past century. Following extensive research, and first hand experience extending well beyond the careers of most psychiatrists, I do not believe psychotropic medication to be in the best interest of a child/adolescent with anorexia, let alone adults. Moreover, I do not believe hospitalisation within a mental "health" unit to be in the best interest of those (typically gentle and intelligent souls) battling the unique torment of anorexia/eating disorders. With the exception of suicidal indications in a medically stable patient, hospitalisation should, in my opinion, only occur out of medical necessity, for an acute admission to a medical ward. New options must be developed be beyond this, and that is the mission of RED HOUSE.
I am not completely anti-psychiatry - RED HOUSE has a highly respected psychiatrist on our Board, and we draw from the work of psychiatrist Dr James Greenblatt. Both of these are experienced psychiatrists who have devoted their careers to the treatment of anorexia and other eating disorders. Further, it is certainly not my intent to tell you not to seek medical advice. On the contrary, it is my intent to direct you toward what I believe is the best and correct medical advice and care, including that of the very few doctors and psychiatrists who I know are devoted to, and "up to date" when it comes to treating eating disorders.
At RED HOUSE we do not ignore the psychological aspects of eating disorders. It is undeniable that the majority of cases, especially severe and chronic cases, are complicated by some level of psychological trauma and are almost exclusively accompanied by mood disorders. However, why is it that some people with a history of trauma develop anorexia, or another serious eating disorder, while others who have suffered similar trauma do not? Compelling new evidence suggests that the answer lies in genetics; specifically, the epigenetic brain and gut changes that occur as a result of initial dieting or disordered eating. While that trauma and/or other psychological issues may prompt a sufferers’ initial dieting and/or binge-purge behaviour, it is the predisposing anorexia gene, along with the micronutrient deficiencies, which cause, exacerbate and perpetuate the illness. Our approach is to treat these micronutrient deficiencies so that an individual’s disordered eating patterns, and physical and brain health are corrected before addressing the psychological aspects that may have initiated the dieting behaviour. It is proven that in doing so, often those underlying psychological issues can be resolved quickly, without the need for years of time-consuming and expensive psychotherapy. There is also significant evidence suggesting that intensive psychotherapy can in fact complicate and exacerbate the illness, causing more harm than good.
The addition of our integrative therapies ensures that positive emotional support and rehabilitation are available to patients (and families) involved in RED HOUSE. We address psychological issues from a "Frankl" (based on the works of psychiatrist Victor Frankl) perspective as opposed to the traditional psychoanalytical "Freudian" school of thinking. This places the emphasis on a person's positive attributes, potential, and dreams for the future, as opposed to their past traumas and labelled diagnosis/ pathology. The range of supportive therapies we offer at RED HOUSE are grounded in our community-based care and education, integrating food as medicine, evidence-based science and research, and holistic health.
Dr Greenblatt’s books - ‘Answers to Anorexia’ and 'Answers to Bulimia’ - explain in (scientific) detail why our philosophy and approach are key to recovery.
If you are the parent of a child with anorexia I implore you to seek out other options before placing your child in a system that will promote the use of hard pharmaceuticals and drag you through the revolving door of multiple psychiatric hospitalisations. You do not have to accept advice that does not feel intuitively "right" for you and your child - you have choices and you have rights. There is a better, less risky and less taxing way. Psychotropic drugs have the potential to do more damage than good – especially to the growing brain. To me it is simply unacceptable to prescribe these pharmaceuticals to anyone under the age of 25 in the “willy-nilly” trial-and-error fashion that occurs in mainstream psychiatry. As Dr Greenblatt explains in his book, no pharmaceutical has ever proven effective in the treatment of anorexia, while specific foods and dietary supplements have. Even after the age of 24 (when the brain is considered "developed"), I believe psychotropic medications should be reserved for extreme circumstances, and only prescribed following extensive individual bio-neuro-feedback. I believe it was a terrible mistake for my parents to agree to place me on such controversial medication during my adolescence, and I am convinced that it had long-term detrimental effects on my brain. It certainly did not help me in any way. I believe there are alternatives that are not only less harmful, but far more effective and it is my sincere hope that parents will choose this route – micro-nutrient therapy – before embarking on more invasive treatments that have already proven highly ineffective. The second step you can take right now to help your child, is to feed her as high a dose of raw pumpkin seeds (or cold pressed pumpkin seed oil) as you can possible get her to take daily. The natural, highly bio-available zinc will be immensely beneficial to her physical and brain health. (At the very least if she will not accept the natural seeds or oil, use this zinc/magnesium/B6 supplement, though this will not be as effectively metabolised by the body as the food form). In my opinion raw pumpkin seeds (or oil) should be a standard "prescription" - well ahead of psychotropic drugs, for anorexia... (Read more here)